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Empowering Employees through AI Awareness and Adaptability


Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly advancing and affecting nearly every industry and job function. While AI holds great potential for augmenting human capabilities, it also introduces substantial changes that organizations and employees must navigate.


Today we will explore how to work effectively with AI; employees need specific skills related to AI awareness, adaptability, and embracing change.


AI Awareness: Understanding What AI Can and Cannot Do


A foundational skill for employees is understanding AI’s capabilities and limitations. Researchers highlight the importance of AI literacy - having a basic working knowledge of common AI techniques like machine learning, computer vision, and natural language processing (Daugherty & Wilson, 2018; Ransbotham et al., 2019). Without this awareness, employees risk misunderstanding or being afraid of how AI might impact their work.


To build AI literacy, organizations should provide educational opportunities to help employees:


  • Recognize tasks that are well-suited to AI automation versus those requiring human skills like creativity, empathy, or complex problem-solving.

  • Understand how their roles may change as certain routine tasks are automated, freeing them to focus on higher-level work.

  • Learn about new job roles and career paths opening up at the human-AI interface, such as data scientists or UI/UX designers for AI systems.


For example, Anthropic, an AI safety startup, offers its employees a mandatory “AI 101” course covering topics like reinforcement learning algorithms. This improves employees’ ability to design and work with AI systems safely and effectively.


Adaptability: Embracing Continuous Learning and Change


As AI capabilities advance, employees must adapt by continuously acquiring new skills. Studies show industries undergoing technology disruption require workers with strong adaptability - an ongoing willingness to learn and willingness to change (World Economic Forum, 2020). Core competencies like critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration become especially important as jobs evolve in less predictable ways.


Organizations can foster these adaptive qualities through:


  • Encouraging a “growth mindset” that skills can be developed through learning and practice rather than being fixed traits.

  • Providing flexible, on-demand learning resources and experiences for skills training beyond formal education.

  • Rotational programs that expose employees to diverse roles and functions to expand their skills and perspective.


For example, Ford established an "Innovation Center" where employees can learn skills like data analytics, robotics, and AI. They also launched FordX, an internal startup incubator, challenging employees to develop innovations or be part of cross-functional project teams. These promote lifelong learning and experimentation central to thriving in a changing workplace.


Collaboration: Partnering with AI to Enhance Human Capabilities


As tasks become automated, the human skills of creativity, empathy and judgment become ever more valuable. But to apply these uniquely human skills, employees must learn to collaborate effectively with AI systems (Daugherty & Wilson, 2018). Organizations should focus on:


  • Cross-training employees to understand different roles and functions for seamless teaming between humans and AI.

  • Co-locating multi-disciplinary teams of human experts, technologists and domain specialists to jointly develop and apply AI solutions.

  • Establishing norms, processes and tools for transparency and communication between humans and AI systems working as partners.


For example, Anthropic pairs AI safety engineers and research scientists with subject matter experts from application domains like healthcare to design helpful, harmless, and honest AI. This collaborative approach combining technical and domain expertise leads to more robust, explainable and trustworthy AI applications.


Embracing Change: Leading Through AI Transformation


AI adoption represents a major change that requires leadership and organizational support. Researchers emphasize that effective change management is key, involving communication, reskilling and realignment across the organization (Ransbotham et al., 2019). Leaders should:


  • Clearly articulate a vision for how AI will enhance business strategy and augment human capabilities rather than replace jobs.

  • Drive change from the top through executive sponsorship of reskilling initiatives, new work designs and reallocation of resources enabled by AI.

  • Use a participatory change approach involving employees in shaping how work evolves to boost engagement, ownership and satisfaction through the transition.


For example, when Allianz Italy implemented AI and robotic process automation (RPA), senior leaders engaged employees through a “change academy” covering new technologies and job roles. Competency models helped facilitate internal mobility as roles changed. As a result, automation led to higher satisfaction and over 800 new jobs even as it eliminated routine tasks (Oxford Economics, 2017).


Conclusion


In today's changing business landscape, cultivating skills for effective human-AI collaboration is crucial. Organizations that focus on developing AI awareness, adaptability, collaboration abilities and supporting change management will empower their employees to thrive professionally and personally. This allows organizations to fully leverage AI's potential for augmenting human performance and driving innovation. With the right skills and leadership, companies and their workforces can successfully navigate technology disruption and ensure AI enhances rather than competes with human work. Overall, an emphasis on continuous learning, partnership between humans and machines, and empowering employees through change will be keys to realizing AI's benefits.


References


 

Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.


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